Automatic Endurance Training
Strength is the foundation of any sport. If you don't believe me, that's probably why you've never won anything ever. But like brick and mortar, Strength is only the foundation. It's step one on your way to hot, nasty, badass speed. So how do we build strength? I'm glad you (didn't) ask.
Step 1: buy a gym membership. "But I heard..." YOU HEARD WRONG, SONNY. Step 1a: If someone tells you the jury is still out on weight lifting for cyclists, just run. I know cyclists aren't supposed to run, but in this scenario, you have my blessing.
Step 2: Use said gym membership. Grab a bro (I swear to god, Gym bros are way friendlier and more supportive than they look), and ask him/her to teach you how to squat/deadlift/not-cripple-yourself. If you can afford a real-live-personal trainer, then get one of those FOR SURE. If you can't afford such luxe, Youtube and a mirror go a long way. Then lift heavy. Ass. WEIGHT. Ya know, within reason. Push your limits. Don't squat 90lbs for 20 reps. You get plenty of muscular endurance on the bike. We're going for max force here. That's what this is all about: Bendin' Bars, and Beatin' Cars; Snappin' Cranks, and Givin' Thanks; Winnin' Races, and Bein' Respectful to the Race Referees... Seriously, be nice to those guys. They don't get paid enough to deal with your your cat 3 temper tantrum.
Step 3: Apply newly found mutant strength to the pedals. How? Here are a couple ideas:
1) Standing Starts: When it comes to inducing worry over whether your chain/cassette is worn out, there's nothing better. It's also pretty good at developing maximum torque. You'll never produce more torque on your bike than you do in the first few strokes of a standing start. So how do we do them? Put your chain in a massive gear (I stay out of the absolute biggest because of that one day in November I don't like to talk about). Slow down to a stop, or as close to one as you can get without falling over. Take a deep breath, brace, and accelerate that puppy as violently as possible. Truthfully, it won't be all that violent (lol jk). It'll feel like you're moving a barge through mud, and by the time you get on top of the gear, the effort will be over. So how long does this last? About 5 seconds. Pretty short, huh? That's because after about 4-8 seconds, there's a break, and force production declines. You'll start dipping into glycogen stores, accumulating lactate, and potentially blunt the main workout of the day. I stick to 6 strokes if I've got something else to do later. Left, right, left, right, left, right, done. I wouldn't do more than 10 of these if it's not a sprint-specific day. Take as much rest as you need, but always take at least 2 minutes. The purpose here is to get your muscles firing at capacity. Shorting the rest will only detract from that. Always do these coming off a rest day. It's not that you can't do them on tired legs, but what's the point? You're trying to fire emoji at 100%.
2) Over-gear hill climbs. Do them up to 10 minutes in length. Keep the cadence in the 60-70 range. Get a bike fit. Maybe not in that order, but you get the idea. This isn't anything new, but sometimes I see riders doing their "over-gear" work, and all they do is click the chain down to the 11, and start smashing at 50rpm, but don't actually up their power. Congrats, you just went from 200w at 90rpm to 200w at 50rpm. Not exactly causing deep stimulus, and not really the point of over-gearing. These efforts can be hugely beneficial, but you need to go deep. Depending on the duration, Zone 6 deep. Do these for a few months, and see what happens to your anaerobic power. Again: big effort, big recovery. Do them on at least equal rest, but take as much time as you need to wrap your head around going again.
3) Tractor pulls. They're like standing starts, but for triathlete converts who don't yet want to sprint out of the saddle (I got pretty good at these). But seriously, they're great for strengthening everything from your ankles to your nipples. Here's the idea: Biggest gear, rolling at about 20rpm, fanny planted firmly on the saddle. Limiting upper body movement as much as possible, brace your entire body and accelerate as hard as you can. When your cadence hits 70, it's over. That's it. Take at least 3 minutes rest, but again, Mo' Rest, Mo' Better.
So there you have it: all you have to do in order to start to maybe one day think about being a decent racing cyclist is turn yourself inside out on a consistent basis to the point where you feel like you may throw up and pass out or die, or both. Check back tomorrow for the opposite side of the equation: quickness.
In the meantime, enjoy!
No, they're not the same, no you don't have to pick just one, and yes you should build them individually. Before we get into some ideas on how to make you stronger, faster, and quicker, first you should understand the differences.
So what's strong? A tractor is strong. A tractor is strong as shit. Would you race in a tractor? No. As strong as it is, it's equally slow. Trust me, I've been stuck behind many a John Deere on country roads, cursing.
An 18 wheeler is also strong. Hell, it's even fast. I've seen those things blast down I-95 so fast your side view mirrors shake. But again, would you race in one? No way. Those things get off the line about as well as a 1980s club-hopper in Miami (yes, that's a cocaine joke).
Well, what about a moped? I'd take the moped against the 18 wheeler in a 100m race, but anything past that distance, and it's useless because it's got no top end speed. Quick yes. Strong and fast? Not even remotely.
Are we seeing the differences yet? The key in racing is to know your strengths, of course. But also to know your weaknesses, and not let the opposition play those against you. For instance, if you can hold a good top speed, but take a day and a half to get there, then don't let your competitors open the sprint. I can't tell you how many times I've come 6th out of a group of 6 simply because I was too chicken shit to open from distance. Not everyone is a 100m sprinter. If you don't have punch, then try slugging it out from 300m and see what happens. Just make sure you use some good timing to create the initial gap. On the other side of this, if you've got tremendous punch, but no particular top end, don't open from 200m and fade 50m from the line. There's more than one way to win a sprint, but first you must understand all the ways you will lose the sprint. As someone who's lost a lot of sprints, I've had the opportunity to become quite the scholar.
Here's another truth that's hard for some of us to swallow: everyone must sprint. Acceleration is the cornerstone of success in sport. From weight lifting, to marathon running: without a good turn of speed, winning probably isn't in the cards. Even the great long distance efforts of Cancellara in the classics were initially set off by vicious accelerations. And that stick figure Froome? He doesn't ride people out of his wheel with an aerobic engine: he does it with short bursts well into the red. So how will training your sprint benefit your aerobic nature and help you long before the finish line? Here are just a few benefits to having a little extra pop in your pocket (not a cocaine joke):
1) The harder you kick, the further you go with each kick, the less often you will have to kick, and thus the more time you will spend coasting and recovering. It's counter-intuitive, but the harder you pedal, the easier your ride.
2) Riding in a large bunch is not as stable as it looks on TV; It's extremely fluid, and if you're not going forward, you're going backward. Having that extra punch will help you zip through any gap that opens ahead of you, and maintain or improve your position in the bunch. And as we all know, it's easier to race at the front than it is to race at the back (usually). If you're sluggish, that gap closes, you get shuffled to the back, and you spend the rest of the race dying a thousand deaths out of every corner.
3) Attacking is easier. The quicker you can deliver larger force to the pedals (power), the fewer pedal strokes it takes to establish an equal gap. Establishing the gap more quickly will help limit the anaerobic damage of the attack, and let you access a higher percentage of your threshold power to sustain and grow your advantage.
4) Combine all three of those reasons you just read: having that extra kick will allow you ride at the front, do so more easily, while pedaling less, and as a result, when the race switches "on," you've burned fewer matches and can more easily respond to the attacks of others, or make the difference yourself.
Check back tomorrow for a few short efforts you can tack onto any workout to make racing easier.
Ok, do I have your attention? My apologies. Your diet is not bullshit, and you shouldn't let anyone tell you it is. We've all gotta make money, you lazy shit: Or at least that's what my grandpop keeps telling me. And some of us (yes, myself included), are trying to make money by telling you what to do. This actually isn't a terrible line of work, IF undertaken with good intentions. Unfortunately, you'll come across more than a few people interested only in peddling their particular protein shake, vitamins, or brand of non-dairy trickery. They don't give a damn about making you better; they give a damn about making your wallet lighter. I'm no saint, and so I'm admittedly interested in both. Though if I had to pick one, rest assured I'd rather make you better. That's why the blog is free. That, and I otherwise couldn't get anyone to read my writing: Harper Collins told me to go fuck myself.
So you're vegan? cool. I support that. Only vegetarian? That's cool too. What's that? You go out daily and murder bison with your bare hands, eat its flesh raw in the fields, then make boots from its hide? Alright, man! You do you. There's no one diet that's right for everyone, and I'm inclined to believe there's no one diet that's "right" for anyone. Our bodies are extremely good at adapting, and THRIVING with what's on hand, which is one of the many reasons why homo sapiens are still around, and homo habilis is not. We're the latest, greatest, baddest iteration of the Ape (Unless you count our inferior strength and knack for starting worldwide conflict). Your body is going to use what you put into it, and poor health is often associated with quantity, not purely quality (okay, usually it's high quantity of poor quality).
Alright, alright, gluten "intolerants," stop chucking loaves of bread at me. This doesn't apply to EVERYONE. But it does apply to most people. There are people with special dietary needs, and these people know they have special dietary needs. Their doctor has told them so. If your doctor hasn't told you so, and you don't burst into flames every time you drink a glass of milk, then you're better off focusing less on what you're putting in your mouth, and more on how much you're putting in your mouth.
Don't believe me? Usain Bolt ran a World's best in Beijing eating nothing but chicken nuggets. Marshawn Lynch famously used to eat Skittles in the weight room. Boom. Roasted. But their sports are strength based, you whine. Low weight isn't as important for them, you plead. Endurance sports cause different stress on the body, you opine. To which I reply, if you're treating your endurance sport as a one-speed, non-explosive endeavor, you're never going to make a significant gain. A road cyclist, runner, swimmer or triathlete has more in common with a track sprinter than we're usually ready to admit (Gebreselassie kicking down Tergat to win Gold in the Sydney 10,000m, or Wiggins winning a bunch sprint in Romandie come to mind). The truth is, without explosive speed, you'll never win. Even the great mountain goats have to attack. But that's a different discussion for a different day. (As a counter example to Usain Bolt, I'd like to offer Dave Zabriskie: a vegan who rode the Tour several times, only breaking his diet for a can of sardines, and a suitcase full of EPO).
In the meantime, have some confidence. You're not doing it wrong. If someone tells you "You need to be eating this," gently remind them that we're all different; what works for one, may not work for all, and they can go get stuffed for all you care. As long as you're taking in adequate protein, getting enough fat, and some carbs for your explosive work, you're going to be fine. No one Macro is the devil: They all have their time and their place.
If you've made it this far without writing a scathing review on Yelp, I'd like to offer a caveat or two: First, your body needs fat. Don't cut all fat from your diet. Your brain will turn to mush, or worse, you'll bonk. Second, eat protein. I don't care if you get it from elk, or your neighbor's lawn clippings; if you're embarking on a strenuous training program, you need a baseline of 2g/kg of LEAN body weight (as per the recommendation of Team Sky). Without protein, you won't get stronger. Simple as that. And don't underestimate the power of not hating what you eat. Happiness goes a long way to performance.
Now go eat something.